The Knights Templar were one of the most famous Christian military orders of the medieval period. Officially endorsed by the church in the early decades of the 12th century the express purpose of the order was to provide defence and protection to Christian pilgrims. The concept became a popular one and with patronage came wealth and power so that the order, through a substantial infrastructure of non-warrior members spread throughout Europe promoting its objectives, developing financial institutions and building fortification on a grand scale. However, the Knights Templar are especially remembered today for the prowess of their military knights. Clad in white mantles bearing the distinctive red cross the Templars both attracted and created some of the most expert and effective fighting men of their time. Naturally, the order was closely connected to the Holy Land and with the Crusades. For some two hundred years it fought the forces of Islam for dominance of Jerusalem experiencing mixed fortunes in dozens of actions and major battles. The eventual loss of the Holy Land could do no other than promote a decline in their fortunes, and indeed, the support for the Templars. Furthermore, the order’s wealth and its independent structure, wielding power outside state and church, inevitably made it a target for both suspicion and dissolution. The end came in 1312—in a welter of torture, bloodshed and burnings at the stake. The legend has lived on however, and today the times of Knights Templar are to many more intriguing and evocative than ever.
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William de Beaujeu, the Grand Master of the Temple, a veteran warrior of a hundred fights, took the command of the garrison, which amounted to about twelve thousand men, exclusive of the forces of the Temple and the Hospital, and a body of five hundred foot and two hundred horse, under the command of the King of Cyprus. These forces were distributed along the walls in four divisions, the first of which was commanded by Hugh de Grandison, an English knight. The old and the feeble, women and children, were sent away by sea to the Christian island of Cyprus, and none remained in the devoted city but those who were prepared to fight in its defence, or to suffer martyrdom at the hands of the infidels.<br>
The siege lasted six weeks, during the whole of which period the sallies and the attacks were incessant.<br>
Neither by night nor by day did the shouts of the assailants and the noise of the military engines cease; the walls were battered from without, and the foundations were sapped by miners, who were incessantly labouring to advance their works. More than six hundred catapults, balistæ, and other instruments of destruction, were directed against the fortifications; and the battering machines were of such immense size and weight, that a hundred wagons were required to transport the separate timbers of one of them.41 Moveable towers were erected by the Moslems, so as to overtop the walls; their workmen and advanced parties were protected by hurdles covered with raw hides, and all the military contrivances which the art and the skill of the age could produce, were used to facilitate the assault. For a long time their utmost efforts were foiled by the valour of the besieged, who made constant sallies upon their works, burnt their towers and machines, and destroyed their miners.<br>
Day by day, however, the numbers of the garrison were thinned by the sword, whilst in the enemy’s camp the places of the dead were constantly supplied by fresh warriors from the deserts of Arabia, animated with the same wild fanaticism in the cause of their religion as that which so eminently distinguished the military monks of the Temple. On the fourth of May, after thirty-three days of constant fighting, the great tower, considered the key of the fortifications, and called by the Moslems the cursed tower, was thrown down by the military engines. To increase the terror and distraction of the besieged, Sultan Khalil mounted three hundred drummers, with their drums, upon as many dromedaries, and commanded them to make as much noise as possible whenever a general assault was ordered.<br>
From the 4th to the 14th of May, the attacks were incessant. On the 15th, the double wall was forced, and the King of Cyprus, panic-stricken, fled in the night to his ships, and made sail for the island of Cyprus, with all his followers, and with near three thousand of the best men of the garrison. On the morrow the Saracens attacked the post he had deserted; they filled up the ditch with the bodies of dead men and horses, piles of wood, stones, and earth, and their trumpets then sounded to the assault. Ranged under the yellow banner of Mahomet, the Mamlooks forced the breach, and penetrated sword in hand to the very centre of the city; but their victorious career and insulting shouts were there stopped by the mail-clad Knights of the Temple and the Hospital, who charged on horseback through the narrow streets, drove them back with immense carnage, and precipitated them headlong from the walls.<br>
At sunrise the following morning the air resounded with the deafening noise of drums and trumpets, and the breach was carried and recovered several times, the military friars at last closing up the passage with their bodies, and presenting a wall of steel to the advance of the enemy. Loud appeals to God and to Mahomet, to heaven and the saints, were to be heard on all sides; and after an obstinate engagement from sunrise to sunset, darkness put an end to the slaughter. On the third day, (the 18th,) the infidels made the final assault on the side next the gate of St. Anthony. The Grand Masters of the Temple and the Hospital fought side by side at the head of their knights, and for a time successfully resisted all the efforts of the enemy. They engaged hand to hand with the Mamlooks, and pressed like the meanest of the soldiers into the thick of the battle. But as each knight fell beneath the keen scimitars of the Moslems, there were none in reserve to supply his place, whilst the vast hordes of the infidels pressed on with untiring energy and perseverance.<br>
The marshall of the Hospital fell covered with wounds, and William de Beaujeu, as a last resort, requested the Grand Master of that order to sally out of an adjoining gateway at the head of five hundred horse, and attack the enemy’s rear. Immediately after the Grand Master of the Temple had given these orders, he was himself struck down by the darts and the arrows of the enemy; the panic-stricken garrison fled to the port, and the infidels rushed on with tremendous shouts of Allah acbar! Allah acbar! “God is victorious.” Three hundred Templars, the sole survivors of their illustrious order in Acre, were now left alone to withstand the shock of the victorious Mamlooks. In a close and compact column they fought their way, accompanied by several hundred Christian fugitives, to the Temple, and shutting their gates, they again bade defiance to the advancing foe.